State Policy Network
Getting students connected: State think tanks highlight the importance of broadband access

Regina Mays is worried about her children’s future. Her family lives in a small county in eastern Kentucky. When the pandemic closed her children’s school and sent them home for online learning, a problem many rural families face became a significant challenge for Regina’s family: lack of internet access. As learning moved online, Regina’s children didn’t get credit for some of their assignments. Concerned they may fall behind, Regina started to drive her children to her office in Beattyville, Kentucky, so they could complete their schoolwork.

The Mays family is not alone. Twelve million students across the country lack internet access at home, many coming from rural and low-income families. As more education moves from face-to-face interaction to distance learning, access to the internet is more important than ever. Without reliable internet, students will fall behind.

How can states ensure students are connected? Through research, op-eds, and other commentary, state think tanks have been highlighting the importance of broadband access and offering solutions to ensure all students have access to the internet, regardless of where they live or how much money their family makes.

State think tanks release policy solutions to help states close the digital divide

In April, eighteen state think tanks released policies that state lawmakers should consider to ensure their citizens have internet access. Those policies include creating better broadband maps, reducing costs for 5G deployment, and eliminating state right of ways fees (fees for using state-owned infrastructure). On the list to avoid: government-owned networks, state net neutrality, and new grant programs.

Solutions and commentary from the states

ALABAMA

Alabama Policy Institute

Rural broadband: it’s past time
The Alabama Policy Institute notes now is the time to get all of Alabama online.

ALASKA

Alaska Policy Forum

Overregulating the internet would stall progress to connect Alaska
The Alaska Policy Forum notes that despite significant progress in Alaska to expand broadband access, much of Alaska still lacks high-speed internet access, especially in schools where Alaska’s next generations will be at a disadvantage in preparing to compete for jobs in today’s digital marketplace.

FLORIDA

The James Madison Institute

Rural Broadband Access in Florida
The James Madison Institute (JMI) released a report on rural broadband access in Florida. JMI noted Florida needs policy solutions to increase affordable internet access in rural counties while at the same time avoiding government subsidies and picking favorites. Policies that prevent providers from expanding high-quality, affordable access should be avoided so that all Floridians can enjoy the economic opportunities made possible by the internet.

GEORGIA

Georgia Center for Opportunity

Could coronavirus unleash virtual learning?
The Georgia Center for Opportunity notes we’re in the middle of the biggest virtual learning experiment in American history. One of the biggest reasons why more public schools haven’t moved to online learning is equity concerns. 

The Pelican Institute’s video on getting Louisiana students connected.

LOUISIANA

Pelican Institute for Public Policy

Getting Louisiana students connected
A video from the Pelican Institute underscores the importance of broadband connections for Louisiana students.

Major win for getting Louisianans connected
The Pelican Institute celebrates the passage of a law that removes major hurdles to providing broadband access to people and businesses who sorely need it across Louisiana.

MICHIGAN

Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Virus shows internet is too important for government to run
The Mackinac Center argues the solution to a lack of internet access is to remove regulatory barriers and encourage competition.

Mackinac Center 2020 Policy Priorities, Revised
The Mackinac Center recommends policymakers direct a portion of Emergency Relief Grants in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to fill inequitable gaps where student access to broadband internet and useful digital devices is limited or lacking.

Traverse City promised government internet, can’t explain why project stuck on hold
Mackinac highlights how Traverse City’s $4.1 million plan to provide high-speed internet service through a network sponsored by its municipal utility remains aspirational more than a year after the city approved the project.

Bill would let townships impose property tax hikes for broadband projects
Mackinac points out publicly funded broadband initiatives have a poor record of success. 

MINNESOTA

Center of the American Experiment

Study finds disparities in demand for online learning resources between low- and high-income areas, which will widen achievement gaps
The Center of the American Experiment highlighted a new study that finds there was a disparity at the levels to which households adapted to online learning. 

Education policy recommendations that not only assist K-12 students but are also fiscally responsible
The Center of the American Experiment argues any future stimulus package should aim to improve internet access for families who need it.

NORTH CAROLINA

Civitas Institute

Coronavirus and the public schools: a way forward
The Civitas Institute argues lawmakers should resist the temptation to allow municipalities or private/public partnerships to provide internet service. Lawmakers can incentivize rural broadband development by streamlining the permitting process, eliminating regulatory obstacles, encouraging cheaper technology alternatives, and finding better ways to allocate existing federal subsidies.

How to help school districts meet the coming challenges
The Civitas Institute notes school districts need to work with private business and municipalities to ensure rural areas are served by broadband. Districts can advocate for less regulation, subsidies, and tax incentives for companies that finish projects on time. 

John Locke Foundation

Carolina Rebound
The John Locke Foundation, pointing to a study from the Mercatus Center, notes North Carolina should 1) rely on private broadband investment, 2) streamline and expedite the permitting of wireless towers and other broadband infrastructure on public property and public rights of way, and 3) offer a direct consumer subsidy, such as a voucher, that rural residents and older North Carolinians can use to purchase discounted broadband.

Slapdash schooling and lackadaisical learning
The Foundation points out the Inner Banks, Sandhills, and western regions of North Carolina lack the infrastructure needed to support high-quality broadband. 

OHIO

The Buckeye Institute

Policy Solutions for the Pandemic: Expanding Broadband to Underserved Areas
The Buckeye Institute recommends Ohio offer targeted state grants to deploy high-speed broadband service in underserved areas to ensure adequate internet access for online distance learning, telehealth, and remote telework. Buckeye also noted that government entities should not construct their own broadband networks.

OKLAHOMA

Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs

How Oklahoma should spend its CARES K-12 funding
The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs recommends federal funding should be used to help address internet access issues by providing hotspots and devices for students to learn on.

PENNSYLVANIA

Commonwealth Foundation

A time for choosing: systems or kids?
The Commonwealth Foundation points out one solution to a lack of internet access is cyber charter schools, which excel in virtual learning.

The race to rebuild: how Pa. can bounce back after COVID-19
The Commonwealth Foundation points out “Back on Track” Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) will provide low-income families with a $1,000 flexible education account to help them afford unanticipated education needs, including internet costs.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Palmetto Promise Institute

Palmetto Promise Institute unveils economic ‘jumpstart’ plan
In their report on jumpstarting the South Carolina economy, Palmetto Promise Institute notes every student should have access to the internet no matter where he or she lives.

TENNESSEE

Beacon Center of Tennessee

Policy Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
The Beacon Center of Tennessee encouraged the state to direct the funding provided by the Broadband Accessibility Act to the mobile hotspot lending program for public libraries across the state. The state should request that public libraries remain open solely for the purposes of lending out mobile hotspots.

UTAH

Libertas Institute

Broadband access: swift action needed to address problem in Mississippi, elsewhere
The Libertas Institute argues better mapping processes, coupled with open state infrastructure networks and a forward thinking, innovation-friendly regulatory environment, can spur the necessary response to close the digital divide faster in places like Mississippi.  

Additional resources

Finding solutions for rural broadband and digital inclusion
American Enterprise Institute commentary

Lessons from the pandemic for broadband and internet policy
American Enterprise Institute commentary

Six Things States Can Do to Promote Private Sector Investment in Broadband
Americans for Tax Reform commentary

Satellite-Broadband Service Is the Best Way to Get Internet Access to Rural America
Reason Foundation commentary

Solutions to Expand Broadband Deployment in Rural America
Recorded session at State Policy Network’s Annual Meeting

Categories: State News
Organization: State Policy Network